Former president, Sir Ketumile Masire worked with Ian Khama for many years, the latter as deputy commander of the armed forces from Masire’s time as Vice President (1965-1980), and as commander when Masire was President from (1980-1998).
As Commander-in-Chief, Masire was obviously constantly in touch with the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) commander, at the time Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe or his deputy Ian Khama.
We are aware that Lieutenant General Khama was at some point Africa’s youngest Brigadier at the age of 24, daddy’s courtesy and African roots.
This is the maximum age limit for recruitment of Private cadres at the BDF. This is also the age at which many Batswana attained their first degrees and an equivalence of the time Masire spent with Khama in government.
The death of Masire caused suspicions of a possible grudge between the two. First, Khama only announced Masire’s death more than eight hours after it was first reported; then he did not speak at his memorial service held at the University of Botswana on Wednesday June 28.
Many were expecting to hear a lot from the President when he took to the podium in Kanye at 1000hrs. His speech in relation to Sir Ketumile would only last for five minutes, far less than Thabo Mbeki and Robert Mugabe’s speeches.
He only focused on what other speakers have said, such as Zimbabwe’s elephants; DKs’ crossroads; and the two-term limit.
One would have expected to hear how the two related, especially at a time when there were raging wars in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique. Yes, Masire got into power only three years after the BDF was established and Khama was the founding deputy commander until retirement of Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe when he joined politics in 1994.
In his 20 minutes speech, Khama only spoke about their relationship with Masire for a total five minutes, only acknowledging what previous speakers had said.
“So many things have been said.”
One would have expected to hear about foolish decisions that Masire obviously made at some point during his presidency of 18 years. Since Khama has found a niche as a comedian one would have expected to hear about differences of opinion, especially that he was not in a position to respond to the accusation.
It was unfair for Khama to attribute all to speakers like Mugabe and Mbeki after working so closely and for a long time with Masire.
“I served under President whilst I was in BDF the whole time when he was President. My fondest memories was when I toured with him around BDF operational areas. There was one incident in the Okavango area and I was taking him to one of our camps to show him where we kept the horses, and one of our captains suggested to him to ride one of our horses. I said no, but the President said he wanted to ride the horse. I said to the captain find me the gentlest horse, that won’t misbehave.
“I have been honoured to have followed in the footsteps of these great leaders.”
During Masire’s time there were apartheid raids in Bontleng in 1984 and in Mogoditshane in 1985. It was at the height of the apartheid brutality and Khama denied us the opportunity to know what happened at the Office of the President in situations like that.
Apartheid has long died and it was Khama’s opportunity to reveal what happened at the time, who were in the ‘situation room’ when the first report was made that South Africans or Boers, as they were called at the time, have entered the country and that they have started the raids.
When we were growing up in the 80s and 90s, there was a myth that Khama had abilities to turn himself into a fly and unleash terror on our enemies in Zimbabwe’s Ian Smith and Pieter Botha in South Africa.
Khama denied us the opportunity to know how Masire was able to handle the situation in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Namibia as well as the peacekeeping force in Mozambique and Somalia.
Of course in 1992 and 1993, BDF participated in a peace keeping mission in Somalia dubbed Operation Restore Peace. No casualties were reported. In 1993 and 1994, BDF also participated in a peace-keeping mission in Rwanda, just before the genocide. Khama should have told us how Masire handled those incidents, the mood in the Office of the President. During the same period, BDF participated in a peace-keeping mission in Mozambique and the duo were obviously working together and talking everyday.
While he managed to ease the tension with his jabs, Khama failed to give his audience a hint of what usually goes on behind the scenes when national security is under threat.
Then there was Sedudu/Kasikili Island dispute that nearly brought Botswana and Namibia into an armed conflict. We are curious at how Presidents handle these situations and the only time we can hear about that is when they are in the casket.
Although the dispute was settled by the International Court of Justice in 1999, it begun during Masire’s time. In our societal setup, at the village and in urban areas - this kind of information is normally revealed by people who would have worked closely with deceased person as a way of bidding them farewell and sharing insight into the character of the person that many people would not have known.
Perhaps we should prepare ourselves for memoirs from the outgoing President, which would give us a glimpse into his relationship with his former boss Sir Ketumile Masire.